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BYU survives 'punch in the mouth,' folds to 2nd haymaker in loss at Santa Clara


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PROVO β€” BYU overcame an early 13-point deficit, but turned over another opportunity for a comeback win on Thursday night.

Keshawn Justice poured in 23 points, six rebounds and two assists; and Carlos Stewart added 21 points and three assists as Santa Clara knocked off BYU 83-76 in the Cougars' final trip to the Leavey Center as members of the West Coast Conference.

Brandin Podziemski added 17 points and eight rebounds for the Broncos (16-5, 4-2 WCC), who earned just their eighth win all-time over the Cougars.

BYU fell to 32-8 all-time against Santa Clara, but just 11-6 at the Leavey Center with losses in three of the last four trips.

Spencer Johnson scored 17 points on 4-of-5 3-point shooting to go along with three rebounds, two steals and two assists, to help BYU (14-8, 4-3 WCC) recover from a torrid start with his fourth-straight game with double-digit scoring β€” a first for him since his freshman season at Salt Lake Community College.

Rudi Williams had 24 points and four assists with just two turnovers, and Dallin Hall added 12 points and three rebounds for the Cougars, who committed 19 turnovers and shot 42% from the field and 19-of-25 from the free-throw line.

"We got punched in the mouth," Johnson told BYU Radio. "We talked about coming back out and throwing the first punch and see what we can get cooking. We did for a little bit there."

On a night when Loyola Marymount snapped Gonzaga's 76-game home winning streak β€” the Zags' first loss to a WCC team not named Saint Mary's or BYU since 2014 β€” the Cougars couldn't keep up with a Santa Clara team rated in the middle of the league by record but near the top in overall physicality, head coach Mark Pope told BYU Radio.

"We got punched in the face in the first half, turned it over 15 times in the first half and 10 times in the first nine minutes; it's hard to win when you do that," Pope said. "I was proud of the guys for responding. … I thought our guys did a really nice job adjusting in the second half, and they came out with some really nice fire.

"Now this group has some experience with the physicality on the road in this league. We just couldn't guard those three guards in the second half."

BYU had more turnovers than made field goals, 15 to 10, in the first half. But Hall's 3-pointer with a minute remaining pulled the Cougars as close as 31-26 before Podziemski's step-back 3 at the horn gave Santa Clara an 8-point halftime advantage.

The Broncos got 11 points from Justice, and 9 points and four rebounds from Podziemski in the first half while holding the Cougars to 38% shooting and scoring 17 points off turnovers.

Johnson had 8 points to lead BYU at the break.

"We started the game slow, which is tough to come back from," said Johnson, whose team had just four turnovers after the break. "But at halftime, we rallied back, took a lead, and things were going really well. But I think a lot of those turnovers just plagued us; they were super physical, and they got a lot of free throws.

"We've got to learn how to guard without fouling. Those little things are plaguing us."

BYU opened the second half on a 9-0 blitz in 90 seconds, but Jaden Bediako converted from close range to retake the lead just 20 seconds after Hall's go-ahead jumper. Still, the Cougars connected on five of their first nine attempts to start the second half, including Jaxson Robinson's triple that stretched the lead to 40-36.

Back-and-forth they went until the Broncos led by as much as eight on Podziemski's euro-step with 4:06 remaining to go up 68-60.

The Cougars could get no closer until Williams' jumper with 1:19 left cut the deficit as low as 74-71. But the Broncos ended the game on an 8-5 run to hold on for a home win over BYU for the second-straight season.

"The Stewart transition was super disappointing," Pope said. "We've just got a lot of little pieces and ways to get better, and we will; our mission has changed, but this is a frustrating setback.

"It's frustrating because I couldn't be more proud of the guys' battle on the road against a really physical team. … But when it came down to it, we couldn't get a couple of stops when we had to get it. We just couldn't get them."

BYU will attempt to bounce back again Saturday at San Francisco. Tipoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. MST on CBS Sports Network.

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A proud graduate of Syracuse University, Sean Walker has covered BYU for KSL.com since 2015, while also mixing in prep sports, education, and anything else his editors assign him to do.

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